Dismal first half showing costs the Premier dearly in U21 Munster final

Tipperary's Justin Cahill & Jason Forde pictured in action against Clare during the under-21 Munster hurling final in Semple Stadium. Photo: Eamonn McGee
Bord Gais Energy Munster Under-21 Hurling final

Bord Gais Energy Munster

Under-21 Hurling final

Clare 1-17 Tipperary 2-10

A dismal first half showing cost Tipperary dearly as holders Clare retained their Bord Gais Munster under-21 hurling title with more comfort than the four points win in last Wednesday’s final at Semple Stadium suggests.

No question – Clare were the better team in a free-ridden contest. Tipperary registered only 1-2 from play, didn’t score from play untilt the 36th minute and were out-scored 18 to 12, statistics which underline the superiority of the Banner boys who were lifting Corn na Casca for the third time to also keep their campaign to retain their All-Ireland crown on track.

Similar to the elimination of Tipperary teams at senior and minor level this year the under-21 side failed to match the pace and intensity of their rivals and while it may be argued that had Tipperary taken their points rather than hunt for goals in the last quarter, they might have stolen victory, the fact remains that Clare were some bit ahead of Tipperary as a team and showed a much greater appetite for the contest.

Clare were fancied. They had nine of their senior selection and as minors had gone to the All-Ireland final being most unlucky losers to Kilkenny.

So, the dice was loaded against Tipperary from the start.

Yet no one imagined that Tipperary would go through the whole first half without registering a score from play, their six points coming from Jason Forde frees. Indeed, Clare goalkeeper Ronan Taaffe never saw a whiff of action in that period while, in contrast, the Tipperary defence was under siege for much of the half.

Tipperary were run off their feet and fortunate to be only six points adrift (1-9 to 0-6) at the break. Clare’s pace and physical domination of most of the exchanges saw them cut swathes through the Tipperary lines. They were winning everything in the air, the height of centre-back Alan O’Neill and wing-forward Peter Duggan, being exploited to the full in their game plan. Speedy Cathal O-Connell was also a thorn in Tipperary’s side roaming outfield very productively.

Duggan got the Clare goal in the 18th minute when he doubled overhead on an O’Neill free to send his side into a 1-5 to 0-3 lead. From then on Tipperary were chasing the game, their pursuit greatly hampered by an attack that was not firing at all.

Indicative of the Tipperary management’s concern was the replacement of Tommy Heffernan by John McGrath after 27 minutes, but any one of the front ten could just as easily have gone.

Significantly, Tipperary had subs Colin O’Riordan and John Meagher warming up at the interval and manager Ken Hogan did not wait long before introducing O’Riordan five minutes into the second half to counter Clare’s aerial superiority. The JK Bracken’s dual minor star’s impact in that regard had a lot to do with Tipperary’s improved second half showing.

Liam McGrath too moved outfield to good effect and it was he who scored Tipperary’s first point from play in the 36th minute keeping his side six behind their rivals who were showing no sign of relenting. By the end of the third quarter Clare were 1-14 to 0-9 clear and Tipperary’s cause looked a lost one, but Jason Forde had the Tipp fans in the 8,296 crowd on their feet when taking a pass from Niall O Meara and blasting home a cracking Tipperary goal.

At last Tipperary were showing the bite and intensity that was missing for so long. There was plenty of time to stage a recovery if the team was good enough. Brian Stapleton twice had goal chances that came to nought and then Liam McGrath, with twelve minutes to go, looked to have been hauled down in penalty territory, but referee Shane Hourigan, so fussy all through, ignored the Tipperary claims.

Six minutes later with seven points still between the sides Jason Forde was denied a second goal when his shot rocketed off the Clare goalie. A goal then would have left Tipp three points behind with six minutes to play and the momentum with them, but it was not to be.

The second goal did come, but it was too late in the 59th minute when Niall O’Meara was fouled and Forde netted the penalty. Clare’s Seadhna Morey got a second yellow for his foul on O’Meara and was sent to the line, but it made no difference. The clock favoured Clare whose four-point victory was richly deserved.

So, Tipperary failed to Clare in the Munster final for the second year running, but while last year’s defeat was a real hard-luck case with Clare snatching an injury time goal there was no such drama this time. This is an excellent Clare side with huge potential and they will take some beating as they face into Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.

To their credit Tipperary battled hard but looking to the future and the emergence of likely senior players no claims were laid at the feet of Eamon O’Shea with the exception of Colin O’Riordan who has the height, strength and directness so lacking at all levels at the moment. Wing-back Joe O’Dwyer finished strongly as did Liam McGrath. Michael Breen and John McGrath worked hard and Jason’s Forde’s accuracy from frees was also crucial to the Tipperary cause, but for the most part this was a game best forgotten.

It was Clare’s night and they had star performers in Alan O’Neill, Peter Duggan and Cathal O’Connell while Tony Kelly, Colm Galvin, David McInerney and Podge Collins were others to greatly influence the outcome.

Tipperary: D Mooney; C Barrett, M Breen, A Ryan; J O’Dwyer, T Hamill, S Kennedy; J Cahill, B Stapleton; T Heffernan, J Forde (2-7, 1-7 frees), N O’Meara (0-1); A McCormack, B Walsh, L McGrath (0-2, 0-1 free). Subs: J McGrath for Heffernan (27th); C O’Riordan for Cahill (35th), T Gallagher for Walsh (41st), J Meagher for Stapleton (45th), M O’Brien for McCormack (56th).

Clare: R Taaffe; P Flanagan, D McInerney, J Browne; S Morey, A O’Neill, S O’Halloran; C Galvin (0-2), T Kelly (0-2); P Duggan (1-1), P Collins (0-2), A Cunningham (0-1); S O’Donnell (0-1), D O’Halloran, C O’Connell (0-8, 0-5 frees). Subs: J Shanahan for D Halloran; C Malone for Duggan; N Arthur for Cunningham.

Referee: Shane Hourigan (Limerick).